The Top 4 Causes of Blurry Photos, And How To Fix Them

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The Top 4 Causes of Blurry Photos, And How To Fix Them

Nothing is more annoying than getting home from an event and realizing that most of your photos have turned out blurry. There are 4 major causes of blurry photos in digital cameras and unless you know what to look for, it’s hard to tell what is causing the problem. Read on to learn each of these causes, and how to fix it.

Video – Causes of Blurry Images

Watch a video explaining the top 4 causes of blurry photos

The four main causes of blurry photos are:

  1. Out Of Focus
  2. The subject moves while the shutter is open
  3. The camera moves while the shutter is open
  4. Depth Of Field is too shallow

Let’s first look at how you can tell each of these apart. Then, once you know what causes each, I’ll show you how to fix them.

Out Of Focus

Out of focusAn image that is out of focus will appear blurry. These days with Auto Focus, it’s unlikely that the whole image will be out of focus. More often than not, you’ll see one part of the image crisp and clear, but others (including your subject) are out of focus.

In the example photo here, the top left part of the image is in focus, but our subject and the rest of the photo is blurry.

Now, look at the in-focus parts of the image. Check that they are further away from, or closer to, your blurry subject. This is the telltale sign of a focus problem. What has happened is the camera has set focus on the wrong object.

To fix focus problems, make sure your camera has your subject in it’s sights. (more details)

The subject moves while the shutter is open

When there is not much light around – for instance at night, or indoors – the camera compensates by opening the shutter for a longer period that normal. And while the shutter is open, your subject moves!

You can tell this cause by looking at your subject, If some parts of the subject are crisp while others are blurry then the subject has moved while the camera’s shutter was open.

Or alternatively, the subject was moving too fast and it is blurry while the area around it (that was not moving) is crisp. For example, a racecar on a racing track.

In this example image, the boy’s body is crisp as is the chair, but because he was moving his head and hands (clapping) while the photo was being taken, they are are blurry.

You can avoid blurry images caused by subject movement by changing your camera’s settings so the shutter is not open for as long (more details).

The camera moves while the shutter is open

This is another common problem and will cause the whole image to be blurry.

If your photo was taken at night, or indoors and the whole image is blurry, then the camera moved while the shutter was open.

Like the previous cause, the camera will leave the shutter open for longer when there is not much light around. When the shutter is open for longer, tiny movements of the camera can cause the whole photo to become blurry. Even small movements like releasing your finger from the shutter button, or your breathing can cause it.

For instance, in the example image here the boy is slightly blurry. Because the blur is uniform, it is the camera that moved while the shot was being taken, not the boy. It’s hard to see on the small main image, but if we zoom into the boy’s ear, you can see it is quite blurry and not crisp and clear.

There are two ways to solve the ‘camera moving’ problem. The first is to increase the shutter speed as explained above, The second is to hold your camera steady while you take the shot. (more details)

Depth Of Field Too Shallow

Depth Of Field is the name given to that great effect of cameras where your subject is in focus but the background is out of focus. It makes the subject stand out because that’s the only thing you can see clearly.

Using the preset scene modes of your camera (or the Aperture setting), you can change how much of the image is in focus, and how much is out of focus. For instance for landscape shots, you want the whole shot in focus.

If the Depth Of Field is too shallow, not all of your subjects will be in focus. For example, in the image above, one of the swing handles is in focus while the one just behind (and also the background) is out of focus.

This can be fixed by changing the Aperture setting on your camera. (more details)

As you can see, there are lots of causes of blurry images. The great news is that each cause is easily identified and has a solution.

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About the Author ()

David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.

Comments (99)

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  1. Keith says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks very much for your ee with the video info. Absolutely fantastic help. now so much easier for reference at any time. Cheers Keith.

  2. Nga says:

    Thanks for all your wonderful tips…most helpful.
    Look forward to your next newsletter.

  3. richard says:

    in one article on sharpness you recommended using back button focus. Here in the video you say to depress the shutter halfway and recompose. Could I still use BBF and recompose after focusing? Thx!

  4. Brian says:

    Doesn’t load – says the file c:\blurry\blurry.mp4 doesn’t exist. Which it won’t because it’s not on my C: drive!

  5. helen says:

    I received a Cannon digital camera from my son and he wants me take perfect pictures… so thanks so much for all your infomation that you have given me..

  6. Cyndi says:

    I’m a hobby photography and been having trouble with blurry photos lately. the video was great and very easy to understand. Thank you for posting this video!

  7. Owen says:

    Yes, DAVID i have realized that your skills and experience in photography is quite educative,helpful and interesting to someone who has fallen in love the medium. Keep up the good work man.

  8. palanki says:

    I am a reasonably competent photographer, possessing one DSLR and a pricey Point&Shoot. You confirmed the efficacy of one of my approaches. When I take a photo of a distant (and moving) bird, instead of zooming the lens fully I capture the subject fully in the frame at a shorter focal length and crop the picture without much loss of sharpness.

  9. TimothyG says:

    Where is the audio for this video?

  10. Nauman says:

    Thanks for the great post … you explained it so easily … God bless you !!

  11. Harold C. Howell,Jr says:

    which photo program do you recommend for novis? Gimp,picasa,windows live photo gallery or any other ? Harold thanks

  12. Anne P Kennedy says:

    I <3 the video format. I hope you will continue teaching with videos! It would be great to download on my computer to watch them over anytime. Expecially since I'm sometimes without the internet. David, thanks so much for all you do!!!!

  13. Carl Lejon says:

    I like your video. I rather watch than read. Very informative. Keep up the good work.
    Thanks, Carl

  14. Alex says:

    Putting explanations in video isn’t that easy. Really. But it does help a lot in understanding what the eyes see and hear at the same time than reading and imagining how things work. Putting emphasis on something like you did here greatly brings more clarity. And I never notice that you had an accent. Keep it up! God bless you, David!

  15. Coen & Tersia says:

    Hi Dave,
    We really enjoyed the video. Prefer this to the written ones. One request though. I would like to download these and watch them later as it takes quite a while to watch online if you have to wait for the video to download fully.

    Would it be possible for you to upload in such a way that I can download it ie similar to YouTube downloads.

    Keep up the good work. We learn from each of your lessons.


    Coen & Tersia Oelofse from South Africa

  16. Jeanne Skinner says:

    Loved the video, combined with the text. So easy to understand – and the Aussie accent is Bonza!

  17. Nancy says:

    Lots of information, very helpful. Thanks for sharing !!

  18. Roy says:

    the video is a wonderful idea & good for receiving the information. the only drawback was that it did not load completely. it only played for a few seconds at a time & I had to wait a couple of minutes after each 2 or 3 seconds of play.
    would love to see this work well.
    thanks for the sharing.

  19. Kay Govender says:

    Very well explained and easy to understand,keep up the good work and send more videos.

  20. Julie says:

    Thank you Dave for all the great tutorial work you provide. Not only is it informative but also inspiring especially for those of us who are fairly new to going beyond point and snap. I think you have nailed how to provide crucial lessons in simple straight forward ways instead of overloading with tech speak. I appreciate how much work goes into video production but it works very well. Please keep both formats going – you are appreciated the world over – and accent is no problem to understand here in London. Thanks Julie

  21. Harry says:

    Hi Dave
    Great vid this is where i struggle the most focusing inside shots will def try your 4 options

  22. Noel says:

    Thanks David for your added Video. It was great, well presented and informative

  23. Melanie says:

    Love the video format!

  24. Alpaslan Ongun says:

    Dear David,

    Together with the text, it is just great.

  25. Vicki says:

    David, I love the video clip. I learn more easily this way, as I am not great reader. Still like to have text but the video is fantastic. Your voice is clear and easy to hear. Content was informative and you made it easy to understand. Thank you. Please continue the great work. I am really beginning to get more out of my photo shots thanks to you. Vicki Adelaide SA

  26. Edison says:

    Excellent tutorial, simple but very helpful, thanks.

  27. Alanna Singer says:

    Thank you for all the advice! It’s always very helpful, and I enjoyed the video.

  28. Anne says:

    Hi David,

    The video was excellent! Much easier to learn from as one can see as you explain what the photo problems are and what to do to fix them.Magic.Thanks very much for sharing your knowledge on photography in such an interesting and informative way…Anne

  29. Trevor McVitty says:

    I been hoping for somebody to make HELPFULL videos.
    Thanks David.
    P.S. Your Oz accent is not too difficult to understand!

  30. Larry Andersen says:

    Awesome video, please do more of them, I really got a lot from them. Thank you so much for sharing your talent.

  31. Gerry van der Hoek says:

    Hi David, Tks a lot for yr very clear explanations. They teach me a lot and make nice pictures also applicable to the non-professional like me. The combination of written explanation with the video is great. I do hope you will continue this way. However, if I had to make a choice between written and video I would choose written because English is not my motheryongue. I am from Holland. Sorry for the long comment.

  32. Ken Hannah says:

    Hi David . I have only just started dslr photography and I find your text tips very helpful and now that you include video it is even better! . Thankyou for all the help you are giving to me and all the other photographers out there, it is much appreciated .

  33. Posey Bowers says:

    How about LEARN to hold the camera steady! Squeeze the shutter as if you were pulling the trigger on a firearm. Practice using slower and slower shutter speeds. Take a photo of a black and white page of the newspaper that you have taped to a wall. Start with a normal zoom and then zoom in to more easily show camera movement. Or, rubber band attach a small, cheap, laser to your camera with laser pointed at subject area. Again, practice starting from a normal zoom setting and work to a longer zoom setting. Inspecting the pattern of the red laser dot will tell you how and how much you are moving the camera. Even if you never try the “crazy” 1/10th second shots that I do, ALL of your photos will be sharper and look better as you improve your skills holding the camera steady. Good luck and great photos!

  34. Raymond Antoine says:

    Kudos! I do think that the video is a great support and addition. I prefer, though, the written tips, because I go through them at my own speed or rate, back and forth. Pointing out the faults on the pictures helps a lot. Thank you.

  35. jenny hale says:

    Hi David,thank you so much for the detailed video.It was so easy to understand.I myself find that spoken information sinks in much more easily than just written.Thanks again ,i’m looking forward to more great tips. Regards Jenny.

  36. Leon Magruder says:

    I enjoy your text. I keep most of your postings on file for reference. I always look to them to solve problems I might encounter while shooting &/or enhancing photos. I dont make many videos.

    Thanks for your help.

  37. Mary says:

    David – Very nice addition with the video…. great help to have the written text also. Hope you continue to use combination of BOTH, rather than opting for one over the other. Combination is much better. I have saved your earlier text lessons to a notebook that I can take with me and add notes … camera has memory chip but MY memory (brain) could use a chip implant! Old brain doesn’t absorb, nor retain material nearly as easily as in years past.
    Many thanks for all your information – it is definitely making it easier to get better pictures. People like you are a Godsend for people like me in this electronic world. Thank you, thank you!

  38. Thank you David for the video. It is much easier to understand something when you watch it rather than when you just read it.
    I keep all your newsletters for further reference.
    I bought your e book, Top Photography Tips some time ago.
    Many thanks.

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